First, an important disclaimer: nothing in this article constitutes investment advice. (Also, please never take investment advice from a freelance writer; if we had any aptitude for making lots of money, we would be in a different profession.) That said, let me introduce you to the latest digital get-rich-quick-scheme: JRR Token. It’s a Lord of the Rings-themed cryptocurrency with the tagline: “The One Token That Rules Them All.”
“Is this some sort of joke?” you may be wondering. Good question. The answer is – I am not sure myself. That is the thing about the modern economy: it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between something that is ridiculous and something that might make you a ridiculous amount of money. Just look at the NFT (non-fungible token) craze: for reasons I struggle to explain, people have been making millions by selling digital images of memes.
NFT fever, of course, is inextricably linked to cryptocurrency fever. About 100 new cryptocurrencies are reportedly created each day as creative scammers, or intrepid internet entrepreneurs, try to cash in on the digital currency gold rush.
While some of these currencies have been revealed to be straight-up scams, some are sophisticated satire. Take Dogecoin, for example. In 2013, a couple of software engineers created a digital currency inspired by the shiba inu dog from the Doge meme. The project was supposed to be a sardonic take on rabid cryptocurrency speculation; it was not supposed to be taken seriously. But a few years later, thanks to high-profile supporters including Elon Musk, people started buying Dogecoin in droves. It surged more than 14,000%. Dogecoin millionaires were minted. (In the interest of transparency, I should note that I have made the princely sum of $9.27 from speculating in Dogecoin.)
You know who wasn’t impressed by the dramatic rise of Dogecoin? One of its creators. “After years of studying it, I believe that cryptocurrency is an inherently rightwing, hyper-capitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoidance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity,” Jackson Palmer, a Dogecoin co-founder, tweeted in July.
Palmer’s assessment is right. But you know what? That analysis also applies to a lot of things – from the stock market to diamonds to the housing market. The nature of financial scams has changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant. The more you do for society, the less you get paid. NFTs and cryptocurrency may be new, but the way we assess value has always been out of whack.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist